Voiceover actor Matt Mercer on working in games and comics, plus the "Vezax voice"

Cartoon Voices I- Room 6BCF - 1:00-2:00 at San Diego Comic Con 2012

Halion the Twilight Destroyer. General Vezax. Ka'roz the Locust. You know Matt Mercer already -- he's the voice booming in your head in Ulduar, during the Siege Orgrimmar, in the nooks and crannies of Azeroth. The phenomenally popular video game and anime voiceover actor is known for -- well, let me just slide you a link to his Wikipedia page and let you delight in discovering his stamp on one of your own favorite comics, anime or video games from Sinbad to Resident Evil 6.

Behind that panoply of voices is a WoW player and fan whose GM, actress Michele Morrow, describes as a wonderfully down-to-earth and nice guy. "Every now and then, we'll have his boss [that he voiced in game] come along, and so we yell at him ... to do the voices," she recounted last week here at WoW Insider. "He's fantastic; you'll love him."

Main characterBlademonger
Guild Neverender
Realm Thorium Brotherhood

WoW Insider: Hi, Matt! We just spoke with your Pen & Paper & Laser Guns co-star Michele Morrow earlier in the week for another article here at WoW Insider -- and we hear the two of you are not only co-stars but guildmates, too.

Matt Mercer: We are guildmates. I am unfortunately missing our second raid night for a writing meeting after this interview, so I'm kind of sad because we just finished the second wing of Orgrimmar as a guild.

Michele was excited to be making good progress! It sounds like a great guild -- casual and relaxed, which is sometimes hard to find at this point in the game.

Yeah, it is, which is part of the reason why I'm able to enjoy it again. I played way back in the friends and family beta ... I've been off and on for a while.

So I guess your guildmates all know who you are and what characters you've voiced in WoW, don't they?

Yeah, I didn't have much choice -- Michele introduced me that way, so ... Which is totally fine! (laughs) If anything, it makes it more interesting on Vent when we get to my bosses because then I can banter with them or make fun of myself.

Is that weird, fighting with your own voice ringing in your head?

(laughs) It's interesting, it's definitely interesting.

It's nice to be able to raid my content when it's not old. It always seemed to be previous expansions that I worked on, and I had left the game right before that content or I never really reached it at that time. I missed all my Ulduar stuff until recently, so we went back as a guild and did a bunch of the old content just to get me up to speed with all the stuff I had missed. And I got to hear a couple of lines -- because we downed every boss in about 10 seconds, but that's how it rolls. (dramatic sigh)

Apart from WoW, which you obviously already enjoy on a personal level, does working on a property draw you into it clutches on a personal level?

It depends on the project. Not all project directly appeal to me per se -- but a lot of them do. Especially growing up a gamer, I tend to understand the genres a lot more than somebody who comes in in from an outsider's standpoint.

I try to play as many of the games I work on as possible, especially the ones that I'm really interested in like Fire Emblem: Awakening and Tales of Xillia 2 -- RPGs that are like right up my alley that I had a lot of fun with and couldn't wait for them to come out so I could play them.

What game do you think you've nerded out over working on and voicing the most?

Ahhh ... I'd say it's a toss-up between Resident Evil 6, just because I was such a long-time fan of the character Leon anyway from the Resident Evil franchise and being able to portray him and take up that mantle was a huge responsibility but a huge nerdgasm for myself too, and ... And then it's probably between him and another project that I can't talk about because it hasn't been announced yet. But there's some fun stuff coming up that I'm excited about. (chuckles)

Mists of Pandaria took your voicing beyond straightforward bosses like Halion or General Vezax. Is there a difference in the way you approach longer segments like a cutscene or character that aren't simply next in a boss lineup?

I definitely prefer a character with more of a meaty storyline, number one because they generally stick around a little longer, which means more sessions down the road. It's always nice to have a recurring character! (laughs) Most bosses only record once -- most, not all of them. That for me is a little more of an acting treat.

Boss fights aren't too dynamic necessarily. Now, there's the walk-in-the-room line, then there might be a little bit of storyline banter, and then there's the aggro line, and you have a bunch of combat noises, special moves, screams, a few impact sounds and that's about it. We can finish that session in about a half an hour to an hour.

But if it's a storyline-based character, then that can be more involved. You have to get into the backstories, and sometimes they have the other characters' dialog prerecorded so you can play off of the other performances and it feels a lot more like a full performance. Those I relish more so. Both are fun for different reasons.

So who do you work with at Blizzard for the voicing process?

It depends on the project. It's all done for the most part through the head of their voice casting and direction, which is [casting and voice director] Andrea Toyias. She is brilliant -- absolutely love her and been working with her for a number of years now.

Previous to that was Bridgitte Burdine, a wonderful woman and one of the people really responsible for getting me so involved in the industry at that time. Unfortunately she is no longer with us, but she was a wonderful person.

And working with Andrea has been an absolute blessing. She's brilliant. What I love about her is she really goes to understand the characters and the material and the stories beforehand, so when you come in, she can immediately throw you into the context of it. She's passionate about it, and she knows how to find the right tweaks and the right notes succinctly to get you exactly where she wants you to be and for you to be comfortable that you know what's going on -- which is sometimes kind of rare in the video game industry: You kind of walk into the booth, and, "Hey, you're 23, and your parents were killed by demons -- go." It's hectic sometimes. She's really good about making sure you understand the whole of what's going on.

So are you able to bring in much of your own characterization, your own stamp on the character?

It's hard not to. When you're training as a voice actor -- or any actor, for the most part -- there are certain character archetypes that you just practice on, you hone and develop and change and shift. It's part of learning how to expand your range. So there are certain voices that become kind of like the presets when they give you the character piece of artwork or a little bit of a physical and a background descriptor. But then from there, you can tweak and make it your own, really, and give it its own persona.

Like for instance, General Vezax was a lot of fun because that was a voice I don't get to do very often and at the time hadn't done for any project beforehand -- that is, very back-of-the-throat and (gutterally snarls), you know, creepy. That was a lot of fun to do, and I've been able to use that voice in other projects -- and I refer to it as my Vezax voice now because that was the first one to really kick it off.

So would you consider Vezax maybe the most interesting or maybe the favorite character you've done so far for WoW?

Ahhh, I don't know ... I had a lot of fun with Halion -- just because it's very arch-villain, you know the type, just grandiose.

Orcs are always a blast. Orcs are just nice big, powerful voices.

But I kind of had fun doing, oh what's his name -- it's paragon Ka'roz in Siege of Orgrimmar. He's one of the Klaxxi paragon bosses in there and I got to plumb my Space Ghost Zorak voice for that. That was fun: (creepy, alien voice) "... whatever you require, master ..." That was so fun.

Is there a WoW character you're just dying to get the chance to voice?

(big sigh) Yeeesss ... There are so many great characters that are already kind of spoken for in the pantheon, already established. I had the pleasure of being able to voice Rexxar in the Hearthstone game that's in beta right now, a character who was previously voiced by Chris Metzen in the old Warcraft 3 days. Now, if they are hoping to maintain consistency going forward, and Chris is a busy guy and decides he's already voicing like 17 other major characters in the game -- you know, I would love to continue voicing Rexxar if the chance is given.

I think he's a really great lore character that's been underused, really entirely for the past three expansions. He showed up a little bit in Burning Crusade, and he's just sort of stayed in Outland since then. I'm wondering if there's anything in Warlords of Draenor that might have him ... I hope so. I mean, you know, the time travel thing ... I know he wasn't even born then in terms of the time line -- but you know, time's a funny thing! (laughs)

Well speaking of time, how did you even get into voice acting, Matt?

Ah, that's an interesting question! Originally, I fell in love with live performance at least through theater. I did a lot of community theater, starting in high school and then went on from there. That really triggered -- it gave me a specific direction to focus my love of storytelling. I love to tell stories. I grew up pretty much always the dungeon master for the games I ran; it was something I always fell into.

So performance art was something that pretty much always spoke to me, to get that need out. Voice acting, as a fan of cartoons and video games growing up, was definitely something I wanted to do, but I didn't really think it would be a possibility, you know, in such a competitive industry.

So I managed to get lucky enough to meet a few people who were working on some small projects, and they brought me on on kind of a whim -- it's like (cigar-chewing impresario voice) "Sure, sounds like this kid has talent!" type of thing. (laughs)

I began building up a resume slowly -- and then there was a lot of hard work. It was a lot of hitting the pavement like any actor, doing classes and workshops, meeting people, networking -- constantly learning. There's always more to learn out there from people who've been doing this a lot longer than you or similarly have a better grasp of it. It was just a great learning experience getting there.

And after years of hard work, I managed to get the proper referrals to a really good agency. And from there, it's been work to get work and trying as hard as I can.

And you're working on camera too now! I can't wait to see Pen & Paper & Laser Guns next year.

I never really considered on camera as a full focus of mine just because, you know, I thought voiceover was competitive in Los Angeles. It's just very competitive on camera, and it's so based on your looks and how pretty you are -- and I never thought of that as an avenue that I could be that competitive in.

But as the years go by, I keep getting dragged into on camera projects and having a blast and meeting great people. So I'm just kind of riding it as long as it lasts.

So where are you right now in the balance between acting, voice acting, directing, producing ...?

Working on a bunch of webseries projects. I have a couple of small animation projects that are in the early development stages, so it's a bit of chaos.

I think universally, voiceover is my focus. That's where most of my love is just because the genre of video games and cartoons have been such a personal love of mine since I can remember. Plus the fact that I get to play so many types of diverse characters in voiceover that I wouldn't have the chance to do if I were in front of the camera otherwise. It's just fulfilling as an actor, as a character actor. So I think that's always going to be my focus.

On camera has its benefits. Working with other actors for scene work is an absolute blast. And all the other directing and producing and stuff is just another form of storytelling that I enjoy, but I do that more just on a personal, fulfillment basis than an actual industry business endeavor.

So what can we expect to see or hear from you in the near future?

It'll be coming up at the beginning of next year, but I have a Kickstarter campaign that'll go up for a musical webseries that I've been developing with one of my creative partners for the past couple of years called Malfalia. The cast includes Ashly Burch, Kevin Sorbo, Juliet Landau, Ashley Clements, Mary Kate Wiles, Joey Richter, and more.

I know Batman: Arkham Origins came out recently. I play Anarchy in that -- a fun villain character.

And the for PS4, the game Knack that just came out, I play the goblin villain leader Gundahar. That was a lot of fun -- kind of a goblin-y version of Loki, in a way. He was a blast.

Oh! Also, I did a bunch of creature work for the new Diablo 3 expansion. I don't know if I can talk about it much yet -- it was just creature voices, but nothing crazy.

"I never thought of playing

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